Company says it was told duck boats were OK before sinking

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BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — An entertainment company that owned a duck boat involved in a fatal sinking on a Missouri lake last summer disputes that an independent investigator told it its vehicles did not comply with a government standard.

Ripley Entertainment hired Steve Paul in 2017 before it bought the boats from Missouri company Ride the Ducks International to determine whether they met the Department of Transportation's regulations, Paul said.

Suzanne Smagala, a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, told The Associated Press that Paul passed the boats in his report. Paul has said he inspected 24 boats of the 40 boats that Ride the Ducks was selling when it ceased operations in Branson, and that he found all of them deficient under the department's standard because of the location of their tailpipes.

Florida-based Ripley ultimately purchased 22 of the 40 boats. One sank last July when a storm hit as the boat was on Table Rock Lake, killing 17 people.

Smagala provided the AP with a July 2018 letter from SEA Ltd, an engineering company that Ripley says reviewed Paul's report. The letter says Paul gave Stretch Duck 07 a "Road Test Condition Grade" of "Good." Later, however, the letter states that Paul's "inspection report addressed the exhaust pipes as not meeting" Transportation Department regulations.

Neither Smagala nor Paul would provide the AP with Paul's report. According to its website, SEA focuses on "forensic consulting services and failure analysis" and litigation support.

The ill-fated Branson boat had been inspected and certified by the Coast Guard, which principally regulates duck boats.

An Arkansas investment company purchased the remaining 18 vehicles from Ride the Ducks on April 23. Stacy Roberts, who owns DUKW Arkansas, has said he has not determined what he will do with the boats.

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